By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times –
NEW YORK — Shoppers take note: The frenzy to rush home with those Black Friday deals could land you in jail if you do what Jacquetta Simmons was accused of doing. She was convicted of punching a 70-year-old Wal-Mart worker, and as a result will spend the next five shopping seasons behind bars.
A judge in Batavia, N.Y., sentenced Simmons, 27, last week after a jury convicted her of assaulting Grace Suozzi following a Christmas Eve 2011 incident in the Batavia store. In a scene caught on camera, Simmons, who had been asked by Suozzi to show receipts for purchased items, denied intentionally hitting Suozzi, who was knocked off her feet and thrown across the floor. Suozzi suffered facial fractures.
In a statement read to the court before the sentencing, a tearful Suozzi said the incident had changed her life. “Since the assault, I haven’t been able to sleep. I feel anxious, depressed, sad, frightened. I lose my concentration. I’m not comfortable in public places,” she said.
Suozzi’s days as a Wal-Mart employee also are over. She said she can’t even watch a Wal-Mart commercial on TV without being reminded of what happened, and that she no longer goes into the giant stores.
Simmons, who testified in her own defense during last August’s week-long trial, apologized in a brief statement. “I hate that Grace and her family had to endure all the things they’re going through right now,” she said, before Judge Robert C. Noonan sentenced her to five years in prison, followed by three years’ probation. He called her behavior “brutal and senseless.”
During the trial, Simmons’ defense attorney had insisted that Simmons accidentally made contact with Suozzi after someone grabbed her arm as she was trying to leave the store. Simmons testified that she did not know who grabbed her, and that she did not realize she had hit anyone.
Because the victim was over the age of 65, Simmons faced a harsher penalty under the state’s “granny law,” which makes it a felony to assault anyone over 65 if the attacker is at least 10 years younger. Simmons could have received up to seven years in prison on the second-degree assault conviction.
This wasn’t the first time a Wal-Mart employee has been hit by an irate customer. In March 2011, a 71-year-old store greeter in Elyria, Ohio, was rammed with a shopping cart and choked after he asked to see the receipts of a 49-year-old woman and her 23-year-old daughter as they exited the store. The mother and her daughter — who also allegedly threatened to blow up the store — pleaded no contest to assault and disorderly conduct charges.
In 2008 on Black Friday, a Wal-Mart worker on Long Island, east of New York City, was killed when a mob stampeded over him in the rush to snag great shopping deals.